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Howden Dam
Derwent Valley, Peak District, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, UK
Howden Dam
associated engineer
Edward Sandeman
date  May 1901 - 5th September 1912
era  Modern  |  category  Dam/Reservoir  |  reference  SK168924
ICE reference number  HEW 185
photo  © Andrew Hill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The Derwent Valley, between Manchester and Sheffield, is home to a series of three dams with reservoirs. Howden is the topmost and the oldest. Its remote Pennine countryside location entailed building a new village to house the workforce, and a railway to supply the site. The reservoir and dam are in continual use, and are Grade II listed.
Annual rainfall in the Derwent Valley is high and valley is well placed to supply water to surrounding urban centres, which were expanding rapidly through industrialisation in the 19th century. From 1830 onwards, various water companies had been building dams to the east, north and west of the narrow Upper Derwent Valley to impound reservoirs supplying local needs.
In November 1898, Derby, Leicester and Sheffield corporations sought governmental approval for their plans to construct larger schemes, each separately intending to use the headwaters of the River Derwent as the source of supply. Nottingham Corporation asked parliament for a share of the water obtained through these schemes.
On 9th August 1899, the Derwent Valley Water Act received royal assent and the Derwent Valley Water Board was formed. The Act authorised the construction of six reservoirs, at Ronksley, Howden, Derwent and Bamford in the Derwent Valley, and at Haglee and Ashopton in the Ashop Valley.
However, the government would not grant rights over the Derwent and Ashop watersheds to a single authority. The proposals had to be unified. Water impounded was to be shared between the parties in the following proportions — 35.72 percent to Leicester, 25 percent to Derby, 25 percent to Sheffield and 14.28 percent to Nottingham. Additionally, until 1930, Derbyshire would receive 22.7m litres per day and Nottinghamshire 4.5m litres per day.
In 1900, Edward Sandeman (1862-1959) was appointed chief engineer to the Derwent Valley Water Board, with an annual salary of £1,200. He advised the board that by making Derwent Dam (SK172898) taller and siting it further up the valley, they would be able to impound the same volume of water without needing to construct the proposed Ronksley Dam (cancelled).
Sandeman designed the very similar Howden and Derwent dams, both of masonry, with architectural details by William Flockhart (1852-1913). In May 1901, construction commenced for the Howden project. Work on Derwent Dam began the following year.
The challenge of the two sites was their isolation. The dams are constructed in Derbyshire gritstone quarried at Bole Hill, Grindleford, not far from the Midland Railway Company’s main line. Bringing in men, machinery and materials required a transport link, so an 11km standard gauge railway was constructed northwards from Bamford, running along west bank of the River Derwent.
The workforce and their families were housed in the purpose-built village of Birchinlee (SK166917), on the west side of the reservoir downstream of Howden Dam. Birchinlee soon became known as Tin Town, after the rows of corrugated iron huts erected as temporary dwellings, shops, a school and two hospitals, plus amenities such as piped water and sewage treatment, and leisure facilities. Birchinlee’s population peaked at around 970 people, in summer 1909. After both dams were completed, most of the village was dismantled and the workforce dispersed. Little of it now remains.
When the footings for Howden Dam were being excavated, the underlying beds of shale and sandstone were found to have geological faults that resulted in water seepage. To ensure the dam would be watertight, a deep trench 1.8m wide was cut into the bedrock, reaching sound unfissured rock some 35m below the original ground surface. The trench was filled with stone and concrete to form an impermeable curtain wall below the dam from end to end.
The dam's core is rough-hewn stone blocks weighing about 5 tonnes each, set in concrete. Below ground its faces are of squared uncoursed stone, while above ground the core is clad with courses of dressed blocks caulked with cement mortar. The upstream face is vertical and the downstream one slopes, with a slight concave profile. The dam is 329m long and rises 35.7m above the valley floor. In section, it is 54.3m thick at base, tapering to 3m thick at the crest.
The central overflow spillway (crest weir) is 265.2m above sea level. Flanking the spillway, at each end of the dam is a castellated tower with arched corbelling, in Victorian Gothic style. The towers rise to 15.2m above the weir and have pairs of small round-arched windows on three sides, with a door on the fourth, facing the dam approaches. Below weir level, the towers continue as pilasters, each with an outlet on the downstream face.
Massive gateway piers with battered sides and banded stepped rustication mark the ends of the dam approaches. Their entrance arches of vermiculated blocks have solid triangular pediments. Parapet walls with dentil course on the downstream elevations link the gateway piers to the towers.
On 21st June 1907, a commemorative stone was laid by board chairman Thomas Robert Gainsford (1844-1910) at the level of construction reached, inset above the arched outlet doorway at the base of the west tower. The inscription reads Glory to God in the Highest in the years of Our Lord 1902-1912 / This Howden Reservoir was built by the Derwent Valley Water Board for the use of the people of Derby, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Derbyshire (the year '1912' was added on completion of the dam).
To prevent water loss at the dam sides, 1.5m wide trenches were dug either side of the main structure in around 1908. They are generally between 24.4m and 48.8m deep, forming buried wing walls some 910m long. As with the curtain wall under the dam, the wing wall trenches are filled with stone and concrete.
Excavation and construction was aided by aerial cableways, which supplied materials to a fleet of steam cranes working on the dam site. Two cableways were suspended from timber towers on either side of the valley, about 45.7m above the river, and operated over a maximum span of 465m. The main cables were 178mm in circumference and could carry a load of about 6 tonnes.
The completed dam represents a masonry volume of 229,000 cu m, weighing some 640,000 tonnes. It impounds Howden Reservoir, a 9,320 million litre capacity Y-shaped body of water. The western branch fills from the River Westend and is wholly in Derbyshire. The longer northern branch, some 2km from dam to headwaters, fills from River Derwent. Itts west half is in Derbyshire and its east in South Yorkshire.
The dam's towers accommodate pipework and machinery to regulate the water level of the reservoir, and are linked by internal passages inside the dam, with stairs to the valve chambers in its base. Full-size valves control the 914mm diameter delivery pipes and the 762mm diameter scour pipes.
Water drawn from Howden Reservoir is delivered to Derwent Reservoir via a 2.8km pipeline. It then flows through sluices located in the east tower of Derwent Dam into the Derwent Aqueduct running down the valley.
The aqueduct divides south of Jubilee Cottages, one line continuing along the east side, the other crossing the Derwent near the site of Derwent Hall (SK174890) and following the west side of the valley to Ashopton before crossing back to rejoin its pair. Though mostly underground, the aqueduct surfaces to cross an inlet at Hurst Clough (SK187876). Two stone valve houses (SK179885 and SK191869) mark the course of the buried eastern pipeline.
After merging, the aqueduct continues south across the mouth of Ladybower Gorge to connect with Rivelin Tunnel (supplying Sheffield Corporation’s reservoirs in the Rivelin Valley) and reach Bamford Water Treatment Works (SK213831). From there, the treated water goes to a service reservoir at Ambergate, via Hathersage and Chatsworth Park. At Ambergate it enters the distribution system for Derby, Leicester and Nottingham.
On 1st January 1912, the valves of the Howden Dam were closed and reservoir·impounding commenced.·On 23rd July 1912, it overflowed for the first time. On 5th September 1912, the project was officially opened when water·was let into the aqueduct by board chairman Sir Edward Henry Fraser (1851-1921) at a lavish ceremony attended by more than 2,000 people. Apparently King George V had declined the honour of opening the dam.
In 1915, the railway serving the construction sites at the Derwent and Howden reservoirs was dismantled. Its track bed between Derwent Dam and Gores Farm (SK169907) was later used as the line of the present reservoir side road.
During the construction of the earthen embankment of Ladybower Dam (SK199854) in 1935-43, the aqueduct on the east side of Derwent Valley was diverted through a raised pipeline and the pipes near Ashopton and Ladybower Gorge were rerouted on new viaducts.
During World War II (1939-45) the dams at Howden and Derwent were used for training by aircraft of the Royal Air Force 617 squadron, known as the Dambusters. The British dams were similar in many respects to the Möhne and Eder dams in the industrial Ruhr region of Germany, which were attacked by the Dambusters in 1943.
In 1974, the Derwent Valley Water Board was abolished under the terms of the Water Act 1973 and responsibility for the valley’s system of dams and reservoirs was transferred to the newly created Severn Trent Water Authority. In August 1985, Howden Dam and Reservoir were Grade II listed.
From August 2005 to March 2006, Severn Trent Water carried out extensive valve refurbishment of the dam’s scour valves. Chambers in the towers each have three pairs of in-line guard and duty scour valves, operated hydraulically by actuators powered by the head of water in the reservoir with booster pressure from a compressor.
In May 2012, a feasibility study was underway for installing a hydro-electric scheme at Howden Reservoir — replacing the pipeline between Howden and Derwent — with a possible 300kW output.
Architect: William Flockhart
Contractor: direct labour
Aerial cableways: John M. Henderson, Aberdeen
Valves: Blakeborough & Sons, Brighouse
Valves: Glenfield & Kennedy, Kilmarnock
Research: ECPK
"Reservoir Safety and Refurbishment Works at Severn Trent Water's Howden, Derwent and Linacre Reservoirs" by S.A. Robertson, Improvements in Reservoir Construction, Operation and Maintenance, Proceedings of the 14th Conference of the British Dam Society, pp.355-367, September 2006
"Obituary. Edward Sandeman, 1862-1959", Proceedings of the ICE, Vol.14, Issue 3, pp.322-323, London, November 1959
"Engineering wonders of the world" ed. Archibald Williams, Vol.3, Thomas Nelson & Sons, London, 1909
reference sources   CEH E&C

Howden Dam